The Other Side of Emotional Eating

Over the weekend our dieter, Kathleen, received some very good news: her son announced his engagement to his long-time girlfriend.  Kathleen was overjoyed at the news and after their conversation, she felt keyed up.  Although the emotions she was experiencing were joyous, the sensation of experiencing even a strong positive emotion was vaguely uncomfortable – and wouldn’t have been much different than if she was actually experiencing negative emotion. 

Kathleen’s old habits kicked back in to deal with this feeling of emotional arousal. Soon she gave into sabotaging thoughts and “found” herself standing at her kitchen counter, eating a peanut butter sandwich.  As soon as she finished the sandwich, Kathleen realized that she had barely tasted it and was upset that she went off her plan.  The problem with Kathleen’s situation was that she was caught off guard.  Kathleen had often practiced feeling negative emotions and not turning to food, but she hadn’t even thought that positive emotions might lead to the same outcome.

We discussed the situation with Kathleen in the same way we discuss any incident of emotional eating.  Looking back at the situation, Kathleen realized that she should have dealt with her emotional arousal in the same way she always does – by distracting herself with activities, such as walking her dog, taking a hot bath, or polishing her nails.  Kathleen now feels confident that she can deal with any strong emotion without turning to food.

15 replies
  1. CBT fan
    CBT fan says:

    I would like to see a blog entry about another similar challenge I face.

    A couple times now I have gotten down to near my goal weight, within a couple pounds. And because I have lost a lot of weight, and also because I have only a little to lose,I get overconfident and WHAM go and buy a box of cookies.

    I think my Thoughts are when I am buying it…

    –now that I have lost the weight I can get away with eating this.
    –I used to be able to eat like this and not gain weight.
    –I’ll burn these calories right off.

    So then I buy and eat a box of cookies, maybe a few times, and WHAM gain back a couple of pounds.
    In my case I think its overconfidence, that since I have ALMOST reached the goal, I can go back to eating the way I did many years ago, and not gain weight.

    But the reality is that everytime I have done this, I have gained some weight back. Every time.

    So I am assuming the only way to combat this, is when those Overconfident Thoughts come back as the weight nears the goal, (or even worse HITS the goal), I have to Respond to them and tell myself, that…

    –no, in fact I can’t eat like I used to and get away with it. I have tried and each time weight comes back. Whatever the reason, the fact is that it doesn’t work that way. I CAN eat 1 or 2 small cookies, as long as it fits into the calorie limit for the day. I CAN’T eat an entire box of cookies in one night at 1500 calories, and expect to NOT gain weight. Its not possible.
    So expecting to be able to eat a box or three of cookies in a week, and NOT gain a couple of pounds is as nonsensical as pigs flying! It ain’t gonna happen.
    –bottom line, I can’t eat 1000+ calories of a junkfood at one sitting and keep the weight-loss. It won’t happen, its not possible, unless I was hiking Antarctica.
    –But I CAN have a little bit of those foods, max about 200 calories at a time, a couple of times a week.
    –But the 1000+ calorie scarfing leads to weight gain. It HAS to biologically, that is too many calories all at once, and the body converts it to fat for later use. Eating less means I can eat more, over the long haul.

    So we’ll see if I can NOT slip-back again this time…

  2. CBT fan
    CBT fan says:

    I just checked about required calories for hiking in Antarctica!

    Well, they assume you are dressed properly, and hiking on a trail. So even hiking in sub-freezing temperatures, you only burn about 500 more calories a day!
    So even hiking in the freezing cold, if I ate an extra box of cookies a day, I would gain weight!

    I could probably eat an extra box of cookies a day and not gain weight, if I were breaking trail in Antarctica while underdressed. But somehow it doesn’t seem worth it.

    The bottom line is that dense calories are just too easy to eat, and our bodies are so efficient in burning calories. That is why it is so incredibly easy to overeat, especially now when we are bombarded with high-calorie, sweet, good-tasting foods for such a low cost. (insert profanity here).

    But, its far far better than not having enough nutritious food like so many people on earth.

  3. Helene
    Helene says:

    I echo CBT’s thoughts. I was within 6 pounds of goal – and gained 12 pounds back. My behavior makes no sense at all when I think of it objectively – there is nothing else in life where I make the same mistake over and over, and expect a different result.

  4. CBT fan
    CBT fan says:

    just an update…I did finally hit my weight-loss goal, and not jump back up!
    BUt I can feel the overconfidence creeping back already…

    Thoughts like:
    -hey, since I lost the weight, I can burn off that box of cookies
    -with less body fat, I can eat more and it will burn off…

    Rationalizations…so I gots to keep an eye on that…

  5. Elayne
    Elayne says:

    Not only nearing goal can produce sabotaging thoughts. A sequence of on- target days can also contribute to unbounded eating. It is easy to forget the “not good” feelings that unbounded eating produces. Worse, the feelings of shame and powerlessness that an all out binge leaves in its wake. I’m wondering if a card describing those feelings can be helpful in averting such episodes.

  6. Flyingroo
    Flyingroo says:

    It might help you to acknowledge that former overweight people, after losing the weight, need MORE exercise to keep the weight off! The scientists noticed this but they have no explanation on why it’s happening. I know, it’s just not fair, but it’s a fact. So when you want to eat that cookie, and you rationalize that you are anyway going to exercise it off…well, think twice. That extra exercise is needed to keep you at the normal weight. If you insist in rationalizing, you could rationalize this way:

    – one cookie means 100 cals. to lose 100 cals I need to stay this long on a treadmill…time that I cannot afford to lose because I want to spend it with my kids, with my significant other, taking a class, making money…etc etc etc 🙂

  7. emiglia
    emiglia says:

    That’s really interesting… I’ve never heard of anything like that before! I know all about emotional eating: I’m the queen of the bored/sad/stressed binge. But eating because you’re happy? That’s a new one for me.

  8. RT
    RT says:

    I’m not sure distracting yourself is the answer. I did that for years & thats all they were, distractions. I had to learn to just ‘be’ with my emotions, that’s helped tremendously. Not analyze, giving it power or what not, just taking deep breaths & experiencing the emotion until is dissipated. It’s not easy though, sometimes it can be one of the hardest things I do in a day.

  9. Foodie McBody
    Foodie McBody says:

    What happened to this blog? I wish it still had ongoing updates… I am reading back and finding it so helpful. Please resume this blog!!!!!


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